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How Texas Can Reach Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050

The Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas in Austin this week issued a report, three years in the making, “Don’t Mess with Texas: Getting the Lone Star State to Net-Zero by 2050.” The study was co-authored by Vibrant Clean Energy and the University of Colorado Boulder. Funding was provided by The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the meadows Foundation, and the Catena Foundation.

The study focused on four scenarios: Business as Usual, Electrification, Electrification with Accelerated Clean Power, Hydrogen and Carriers, and Extensive Capture. The study analyzed the viability of technologies for each scenario and its impact on carbon emissions, pollutant emissions, energy efficiency, job creation, water use, and land use. Its conclusion:

Achieving net-zero is difficult, but it’s also potentially lucrative; our analysis estimates it could spur economic growth and create jobs. In each scenario, we consider the environmental, economic, and jobs impacts to Texas over the next thirty years in transitioning Texas to net-zero conditions. We compare and discuss each scenario, including BAU, to reveal key policies, technological developments, economic impacts, and environmental trade-offs across the various pathways. These scenarios are neither predictive nor prescriptive. Rather, they are illustrative. A key takeaway is that it is possible for the Lone Star State to achieve a net-zero future, and there are multiple ways of getting there. The actual path Texas takes will likely look different from any of these scenarios, but assessing the trade-offs of different pathways can provide valuable insight for the next steps to take. Scenario conditions that have an outsized influence on future emissions or are present across multiple pathways should be strongly considered in the near term as win-win decisions Texas can make now while future technology development and market conditions continue to unfold. Figure ES-2 summarizes the major impacts from each scenario.

The study’s top ten takeaways:

  • Decarbonizing by 2050 can spur economic growth and create jobs.
  • Zero-carbon hydrogen from electrolysis and renewable energy could help spur economic growth while decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors and products/carriers.
  • The industrial sector presents a large opportunity for emission reductions, but is also the most difficult sector to fully decarbonize.
  • Clean electricity can flexibly power multiple sectors, drive state-wide energy efficiency, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions, improving air quality and public health.
  • Wind, solar, and storage dominate the Texas clean electricity narrative, but natural gas still has a role to play.
  • Efficiency standards, ‘clean-up-your-act’ policies, and electric transportation are effective low-hanging fruit with low barriers to entry.
  • Carbon management technologies like Direct Air Capture and Sequestration (DACS) are important for getting all the way to zero and can foster new industries around capturing the hardest-to-abate emissions.
  • Going net-zero provides opportunities to improve energy-system resilience and mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events.
  • Decarbonization comes with multiple environmental co-benefits and trade-offs.
  • To ensure decarbonization is the most equitable solution for everyone, supporting policies should be designed to remedy rather than exacerbate distributional equity gaps.

Read more about the report here.


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